Shortstop has been the position that experienced the most turnover this winter. Coming into the offseason, Jean Segura and Luis Sardinas stood atop the depth chart. Neither is with the organization any longer. In their place are Jonathan Villar and Yadiel Rivera. And all the while top prospect Orlando Arica has been waiting not too far away for his chance to break into the majors. But for right now, the question is who will break camp as the Brewers starting shortstop.
I have a pretty good idea what the answer is, and I think you do too. But before we address that, let's discuss Yadiel Rivera. He very well might rival Orlando Arcia as the best defender in the Brewers organization. There's no doubt he can handle major league innings right now at both short stop and second base--defensively. He might even be an option at third base. Unfortunately he cannot hit. In six minor league seasons he "hit" 244/289/349. As a glove first infield bench option he's fine. But the bat limits his ceiling to that role. And at this point, it's a role I expect him to break camp in.
The real competition for a starting role will be between Villar and Arcia. I know a lot of people are really hoping that the latter will earn the job by impressing in spring training. I'm sorry to say it's just not going to happen. For one, he's never played at the AAA level. I doubt the Brewers will be willing to put his development at risk by skipping him over AAA like they did with Jean Segura. A secondary concern would be wasting a year of service time during a season in which the Brewers effectively have no chance at making the playoffs. By keeping him down long enough, they'll essentially extend their years of team control from 6 to 6.5 or 7.
Those are the reasons why Arcia won't be joining the major league team right from the start. But there are also reasons why it makes sense for them to give that playing time to Jonathan Villar. He's not a nobody. Once the Astros considered him their "shortstop of the future." He has good range, good speed, and a strong throwing arm. If it weren't for the errors, he'd be considered a good defender up the middle. Hopefully that's something he can work on with the Brewers. And while his bat will probably never be great, if he reaches his ceiling he could be a guy that hits 5-8 home runs and steals 40 bases. His bat did show signs of improving last year: 271/342/407 in 313 PA at AAA; 284/339/414 in 128 PA at MLB; 7 HR and 42 SB across both levels.
Orlando Arcia is probably going to play for the Brewers at some point this season. It just won't be in April. But when that time comes the team is going to want to know what they have in Jonathan Villar. Because if he can hit like he did last year, he's a much better option to man second base than the current candidates. And so this could end up as the season the Brewers figure out their long term middle infield situation.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs